We have a lot of soul searching to do. The California recall was supposed to be a culmination of Californians from all political backgrounds coming together to put an end to Gavin Newsom’s hypocritical time as governor. That plan imploded in spectacular fashion on Sept. 14, and now we have to endure another year of his governorship.
When I first thought about running for governor, one of my first phone calls was to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former governor was one of the last Republicans to win a statewide election in California. He told me I would love campaigning because I would meet people from all different backgrounds from across the most diverse state in the country. He was absolutely correct.
As I traveled up and down the state meeting with Californians from all walks of life and listening to their stories, I was reminded of why I first came to the state 48 years ago to chase my California dream. I came to this state because I wanted to surround myself with the most talented athletes in the world and train with the best coaches available. On my campaign, I surrounded myself with truly good and decent people who wanted to restore the luster of the Golden State.
I met with homelessness advocates who were finding innovative ways to solve the crisis so our citizens would have a place to stay and, more important, a path to get back on their feet.
In San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border, I listened to border patrol agents who described an out-of-control situation that overwhelmed their ability to safeguard the border and prevent migrants from crossing into the United States.
I also traveled to Northern California to visit the devastation caused by the largest wildfire in state history, much to the chagrin of political analysts in the news media – who questioned whether it was an appropriate use of my campaign time since the voting population was tiny in that part of the state compared with the biggest metropolitan areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Those few days in Greenville, seeing a town completely devastated and wiped from existence, was one of the most impactful moments I have ever encountered. I listened as business owners, school teachers and single mothers had nowhere to go because their entire lives were flipped upside down. I made a promise to them that I would never forget what they went through and that I would do everything in my power – whether I was governor nor not – to help them rebuild their lives.
Leadership means standing up for what is right
These experiences taught me that we are not defined by whichever political party we belong to but instead by the common values we share. When I first transitioned to Caitlyn and was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, I revealed I was a Republican. To my shock, coming out as a Republican was more difficult than coming out as transgender. It surprised me because in that moment, and during the ensuing news coverage, I was known more for my political affiliation than my intentions to promote the cause of acceptance and equality for the LGBTQIA community. It should not have mattered whether I was a Republican or not. But because our society is so tribal, we as individuals are defined by their predetermined constructs that force us into neat little boxes. It should not be that way.
So where do we as Republicans go from here?
First, we can be proud of the work we have done. People like Anne Dunsmore and many others gave their heart and soul into this election and without them, the 1.6 million valid signatures gathered for the recall would not have been a possibility.
We also have to recognize the Republican – and Democratic – candidates who stepped forward into the political arena knowing a change was needed. We all endured personal attacks from the Sacramento political establishment that was funded by millions of dollars from special interest groups looking to keep their grasp on Newsom. In many instances, these personal and vitriolic attacks were not based in reality, but when you are in the arena, you have to be able to deal with the arrows lobbed in your direction.
But most important, we need to fight for inclusivity in the Republican Party. In many ways, there are still barriers for entry for someone like myself to be fully accepted in the party on a national level. It is partly generational, but mostly it stems from their unfamiliarity with someone whom they do not understand.
I had elected officials and party leaders who would gladly take private meetings with my campaign team and me, but would balk at the mere notion of being seen publicly with me. To a point, I understand they have to protect themselves from their voters and the base who might not be as open-minded as they are. But leadership means standing up for what is right, and if you thank me privately for running for office, you should be able to do it publicly.
We also know Democrats and independents outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in California. Any statewide Republican candidate must understand and accept that we either need them to come over to our side or we need to go to them. We simply cannot just rely on our base because there are not enough of these voters to offset the sheer number of Democrats. This recall proved it will always be a losing proposition to put forth Republican candidates with values that are nonstarters for independent and Democrat voters.
How do we do that without compromising or sacrificing our conservative values?
I believe that all Californians – regardless of party affiliation – want a robust economic environment where they can keep more of their hard-earned money, put food on the table and have some money left over at the end of the day. It is simply too difficult to exist comfortably in California, which is partly why the homelessness crisis has exploded. We know that conservative economic values work and, when implemented, create an environment for businesses to thrive while increasing prosperity for all.
But we also need to support social programs that help the needy and provide equal opportunities for those who are disadvantaged so they can thrive. In California, Democrats have a monopoly on social issues, and Republicans have allowed them to reinforce that notion. We should be the party of the working class and people who have been forgotten by those in political power.
My work in California is far from finished. What I have learned on this campaign is when things become tough, it means you are doing something right. I will continue to fight for the conservative movement and work with the next generation of leaders who will open doors for more people to join the conservative movement and be accepting of people like myself who do not fit into what the media or society categorizes as Republican.
Caitlyn Jenner was candidate for governor of California.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Caitlyn Jenner: Fight for inclusivity in the Republican Party